New Delhi: Ranked No. 11 in the world and buried at the rock bottom of the standings at the London Olympics, Indian hockey bit the bullet before announcing the squad to tour Australia. And a fortnight later, bosses at Hockey India will have a rare smile on their face as the boys have made it to the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy.
Sandeep Singh, Bharat Chetri, Igance Tirkey, Shivendra Singh and Tushar Khandker were all given the boot by Hockey India. To some it appeared shooting yourself in the foot, but the selectors' move to blood youngsters has turned into gold.
Nithin Thimmiah, PT Rao, Akashdeep Singh and Yuvraj Walmiki are some of the names who have rise on the big stage and put it across England and New Zealand in the preliminaries before edging out Belgium in the quarter-finals.
But the biggest test is up next for the inspirational Sardar Singh and his boys as they meet heavyweights and hosts Australia in the semis. Before that, though, let's sit back and see how the Men in Blue travelled on their road to the semi-finals and earn themselves a shot at a Champions Trophy medal after 30 years.
Game 1: India beat England 3-1
India started their Champions Trophy campaign on a brilliant note beating the favourites and World No. 4 England in a thrilling encounter. India came from 0-1 behind to win with goals from Danish Mujtaba, Walmiki and an own goal by England.
Game 2: India beat New Zealand 4-2
A self-goal early in the script set India aback but the team recovered well to prevail over the Black Sticks and move to the top of Pool A. India - after equalising through Akashdeep - went 3-1 ahead with strikes centre-forward from Gurwinder Singh Chandi and defender VR Raghunath.
New Zealand did pull a goal back before the first half but Mujtaba's second goal of the tournament sealed the match in India's favour. The victory earned India six points with 2/2 wins, putting them on top of Pool A on day two of the tournament. At that stage, India were the only unbeaten team of the tournament.
Game 3: India lose to Germany 2-3
Experimenting in the last 15 minutes of the match cost India a win against Germany, though they went down fighting valiantly. India squandered the lead twice to lose the match but remained on top of Pool A as they had a better goal difference of +3 compared to Germany's -1.
By way of finishing as the top Pool-A team, India were to play Belgium, who finished last in Pool B having lost all their pool matches but still be in the quarter-finals - thanks to the tournament's new format.
Quarter-Final: India beat Belgium 1-0
India turned a leaf in their hockey history to enter the semi-finals of the men's Champions Trophy on their return to the tournament after a gap of six years. They beat Belgium in a 1-0 cliffhanger to book a meeting with Australia. The only goal of the match was scored by the youngster Nithin Thimmiah.
Goals Forced: 10
Goals Against: 6
Goal Difference: +4
Field Goals: 6
Penalty Corner Goals: 3
Own-Goal Beneficiary: 1
Goal Scorers: Gurwinder Singh Chandi (3), Danish Mujtaba (2), Nithin Thimmaih (2), VR Raghunath (1), Yuvraj Walmiki (1), one own goal
Green Cards: VR Raghunath (1), Nithin Thimmaiah (2), Gurmail Singh (1), Manpreet Singh (1), Sardar Singh (1)
Yellow Cards: VR Raghunath (1), Gurwinder Singh Chandi (1), SK Uthappa (1)
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